Snohomish County PUD is adding a few million dollars to its tree-trimming operation, upgrading its phone system and stockpiling replacement parts.
After the snow and windstorms of 2006 — the most damaging and expensive storms in the utility’s history — the PUD explored how it could stay ahead of winter storms.
More than 1.2 million people in the region were left without power, including thousands in the PUD’s 2,200-square-mile service area.
“This will help us get out in the field quicker and help minimize power outages,” said Neil Neroutsos, a spokesman for the utility.
The PUD trims trees and brush from more than 500 miles of line every year. This year, it spent $2 million more on clearing vegetation from power lines, bringing its tree-trimming budget to about $7 million.
During the 2006 storms, replacing blown transformers was delayed in some cases because the utility’s supply of replacement transformers had run short. A supplier in the southeastern United States, still reeling from disruptions caused by Hurricane Katrina a year before, couldn’t build new transformers fast enough.
The utility has built up its inventory of “ready-to-go” equipment baskets that can help crews hit the road quickly and fully prepared. It has increased supplies of transformers, wire, insulators, bolts, connectors and cross-arms and entered into mutual aid agreements with other utilities to help move materials where they are needed most.
Upgrades to the utility’s phone system now allow it to handle up to 10,000 calls per hour. The new phone system allows people to report outages more efficiently and also to learn information about outages affecting them, Neroutsos said.
The utility also is keeping a closer eye on developing storms so that it can better mobilize its work force, Neroutsos said.